Friday, March 30, 2012

Bimini seaplane ride 'grows a ton'

A US Navy fighter pilot's sea plane company will begin twice weekly scheduled flights between Fort Lauderdale and Bimini today, telling Tribune Business the company had "grown a ton" in less than a year following its $200,000 start-up investment.

Rob Ceravolo, chief executive and president of the Key West-based seaplane outfit, Tropic Ocean Airways, told Tribune Business he had been well-received by Bimini residents after being approved to operate into the Bahamas last June. 

Mr Ceravolo told Tribune Business: "I used to travel to Bimini. I always thought it would be a good idea to start a seaplane service there. We had a lot of calls for it, and we decided to try it out. 

"We started out in Key West last June. Our first Bimini flight was last June. Since then we have been operating on-demand service. We are hoping to add Miami and West Palm Beach later on, but we are taking it one step at a time. My company doesn't have any big financial backer. I've been doing this on my own, on a navy pilot's salary."

Mr Ceravolo said he had invested about $200,000 of his own money into the company, and added: "I started out with just myself and a friend of mine, and we added three pilots. In less than a year we have grown a ton. Our planes are very well kept. If you take care of your planes they will take care of you. 

"We have very strict standards and operating procedures. I've probably invested $200,000 of my own money. I sold a house to help make this happen. You can say this is my retirement plan. We have been very well received by the locals here in Bimini."

Mr Ceravolo said the seaplanes currently have the capacity to carry up to five passengers; four at a time on the scheduled flights. "We are hoping to invest in larger seaplanes. If we see a very big demand and need more capacity we will be looking at the Cessna Caravan, but right now it's just a step-by-step approach."

The flights are about 35 minutes, and will land in the harbour on North Bimini, allowing passengers to disembark at the seaplane ramp just blocks away from Guy Harvey's Big Game Club and Bimini Bay, avoiding the long taxi and ferry boat ride required if passengers arrive at the South Bimini airport. 

Tropic is teaming up with the Big Game Club and Bimini Watersports to offer guests an adventure travel package including airfare, accommodations, and water sports activities. 

Bimini Big Game general manager, Michael Weber, told Tribune Business: "We are in the process of purchasing a floating dock, which will be on the south side of the property. That will enable the plane to disembark right at the resort. It will be treated like a boat would. It's all very exciting. Right now they will disembark at the old Chalk's ramp."

In the year since it began operations ,the airline has had some notable flights, including donating two flights to transport Christmas gifts to the children of Bimini as well as bringing John Hemingway, grandson of Ernest Hemingway, back to the island.


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